I am a stickler for details. This is something old history professors found most impressive. Mostly everybody else finds this most obnoxious. If I was penning a paper on the origins of popular euphemisms, for instance, I would latch onto the old adage about beating a dead horse. Then I’d go out robbing equine graves. I’d think “Sorry” really hard in hopes of forgiveness, and (because I am hard-wired to literally keep it real) I’d smack that departed Filly in the face. But what’s wrong with you? I’m not hitting horse babies, fool. I’ve been too busy planning my kid’s birthday party.
When my sister offered ideas for a carnival-themed bash for my almost three-year-old, I went with it. I went, and I went, and I ran and sprinted and stopped only for short breaks from all the went-ing. No flimsy cardboard clown cutout would do. I would meticulously recreate the carnivals of yore! The air would smell of popcorn and pee! Suspicious child-less men would lurk in dark Fun House corners! Flame throwers! Miserable parents! Terrified children! Overflowing trash cans dotted with funnel cake barf!
But for all my respect of carnival history and dedication to my compulsive craft, plans slowly began to unravel. My dad refused to start drinking at sunrise. It was necessary for him to be completely sloshed by party’s start if he was to accurately portray the criminally negligent ferris wheel operator. Also I would need a ferris wheel. Horror of horrors, my older sister barely sipped the spiked coffee I offered her. One measly swig of male growth hormone does not a bearded lady make! With nary a whisker on that chin, I abandoned the time-tested creepiness of true carnivals, remembered that my son is only three, and settled with planning a party that kind of, a bit, somewhat resembled a cartoon clip art picture of a carnival.
We headed to Dollar Tree where I was ecstatic to find that everything cost a dollar. I figured this was a special sale so I bought all things red, yellow, blue, striped, polka-dotted, and plastic. Dollar Tree: Where money doesn’t grow on trees… but these kick-ass leopard print place mats sure do. The cashier looked dismayed as I unloaded my second cart. The register spazzed and seizured. I left a little worried that I broke the dollar store for good this time.
A few poster boards, balloons, and yards of scrap ribbon later, Thomas’s birthday carnival was dressed and ready to impress. As I put the finishing touches on the magnetic Pin The Tie on The Thomas board I’d fashioned from cardboard diaper boxes, I couldn’t wait for Thomas’s friends to tell him how cool his mom is for orchestrating such a creative festivity.
Yeah. They’re all pretty much three.
Eyes shot to the giant sweets table. I hoped they were admiring the hand-painted sign and ribbon-wrapped mason jars, but then the drool started. I knew they fawned only for the tower of cupcakes, the crack-laced juice boxes, the candy! The communal toddler response was, “OH SWEET MOTHER PUCKER! ALL ZEE SUGARZZZZZZ!”.
The Hoop Toss (made of hula hoops and streamers) was an idea I found online. The crafty blogger called the game Ring of Fire so clearly she doesn’t appreciate the trauma of childbirth. Also, it occurred to me later that throwing a ball at a hole sounds boring or dirty (Ring of Fire, really?). Either way a little lame. The idea to pin balloons to a board with sharp thumb tacks seemed legit. So as small guests chewed and clawed, sat and stomped in a round of Balloon Pop I was shocked to see things take a prickly turn. More shocking? The amount one little baby butt cheek can bleed. I didn’t assign an adult to the face painting station so within minutes kindergarteners swarmed the bowl of temporary tats. My niece attacked all bystanders, her victims limping from the table sporting face murals the likes of Spiderman, a fairy, an abused cat, etc. My mostly respectable mother walked away with a tribal/ meth head look and a butterfly arm tattoo that would not quit.
After kids were thoroughly hopped up on frosting, they hit the backyard bounce house. I still believe an 80-year-old man swallowing swords while riding a tiger would’ve been cool, but toddlers being naive as they are, a simple inflatable fortress of doom would suffice. Adult guests showed much restraint, allowing kids to have free reign of the jump castle for three whole minutes. Then we hoisted our large selves in and out of tunnels, over walls, and down slides because no one ever said anything about a weight limit… or tact for that matter.
By the end of the afternoon, all quality carnival details were lost on these toddlers, sugar-slapped into a trance. After the prize bags are shelled out, the bloody balloon shrapnel plucked from the grass, the bounce house deflated, the only sign of a party found in crumbs and frosting smeared across floor boards, after all of this it occurs to me that theme doesn’t so much matter. What started as a carnival party turned into anything but. Whatever the color scheme, the sideshow freak shows who did or didn’t attend, the wicked cute posters which kids couldn’t read, the theme for the birthday boy’s day was Fun and Friends and Family. Probably a hint of SUGARZZZ! with a Mayhem twist.
May I remember this lesson next year, when I’m enticed to plan a Quiet Mice party featuring a Benadryl fountain or a Body Slammin’ Babies soiree with Mexican wrestling masks as favors.
Kids just want a cupcake.
It is the grownups who turn a little celebration into a circus.
How does your family celebrate birthdays?
Does anyone know a good contortionist who does kid parties?